Using a color wheel to find color harmony in your spinning

how to, what we doSasha TorresComment

On the left, an analogous colorway using yellow-green, green, blue-green, and violet. On the right, a split-complementary scheme using blue-green, red, and orange. 

In the last blog post, I offered some of my favorite "pro tips" on color management in spinning, culled from what I consider to be the best sources available on the subject. Today we dive deeper, as I talk about using a color wheel to suss out color harmonies, or color combinations known for yielding pleasing results, in the braid you want to spin.  

If you'd like an easily digestible lesson in understanding the principles behind the color wheel (and so much more), I recommend Felicia Lo's  book, Dyeing to Spin and Knit. Once you know a bit of color theory and understand how a color wheel works, then you can better decide what you'd like to achieve with the fiber you've got before you.

Due to a little something called "optical mixing" (the theory behind pointillist paintings like this one), our eyes perceive the tiny dots of color produced when we create handspun yarns as mixtures of the colors in question. Let's put this to practical use: First, you'll unbraid your fiber and take a good look at the colors and their alignment on the color wheel. Depending on these relationship(s), you'll then decide on your desired outcome. Here are some examples:

  1. If, as in the photo on the left above, the colors are analogous, or side by side on the color wheel, then you're in luck. These colors will play well together no matter how you'd like to spin and ply your fiber. Your next decision is whether you'd like to preserve the brightness of the colors, their order in the fiber itself, etc. Anything will work, even a fun barber pole effect. Your colors will not muddy.
  2. If the colors in your braid are complementary, or opposites on the color wheel, or even, like the fiber on the right above, split-complementary (one color or hue with the two hues adjacent to the opposite color), then you've got more to think about. These opposites can dim or muddy one another, depending on proportions and other factors. Or, they can also be used to create lovely colors on their own, again depending on proportions. Maybe you do want to tone down the brightness of this braid of fiber? Maybe you don't. Before you go and spin your default two-ply, think through the outcome. (Sampling is in order!)
  3. Don't write off or destash an overly-exuberant (loud) braid of fiber. Instead, spin it fractally, or even as a traditional 3-ply. The results will be a much more muted version of the colors in the original fiber and a highly knittable yarn. You won't believe the difference!
  4. Consider bringing a solid color to the mix, if you have one on hand. Whether it's black to deepen the tone, white to brighten, or a color similar or even complementary to what's in the fiber bump itself, you can completely transform your end results with this oh-so-simple addition to your spin.

The options are truly endless when it comes to spinning and using the color wheel and color harmonies as your guide, and knowledge is power, as they say. Learning more about color harmonies is a terrific way to become a more purposeful spinner!

Color resources for knitters and spinners

what we do, maker's momentAlicia de los ReyesComment

Now that we've covered the basics of color theory, here are some helpful online classes and video downloads to help you dive deeper into using color in your knitting or spinning, some from Craftsy and some from Interweave.*


Want to learn more about combining colors in your knitting? I absolutely loved A Practical Approach to Color for Knitters by Franklin Habit! Franklin is a really gifted teacher—smart, thoughtful, and encouraging. The information he provides is top-notch, his swatches illustrate his points brilliantly, and I loved the stories of his color-deprived childhood. Do check this one out.

I also really liked Anne Berk's Simply Stunning Colorwork, because most of the techniques she teaches use only one color per row, which is perfect for the limited-bandwidth knitting I'm doing these days. This class made me want to knit lots and lots of striped things.


Spinning Dyed Fibers with Felicia Lo was one of the first online classes on color for spinners. Felicia (the owner of Sweet Georgia Yarns) leads students through an exhaustive discussion of how different spinning techniques affect the look of yarns made from hand-dyed fibers. This is an early Craftsy class, and in some ways it shows (the class is quite a bit longer than it needs to be, IMHO), but there are some gems here if you're willing to invest the time. Plus, you get to watch Felicia spin some truly stunning yarns. 

You'll also want to check out two DVDs on color by Judith MacKenzie: The Spinner's Guide to Color Theory: Mastering Color Without Dyeing, in which she teaches viewers how to blend already-dyed fibers to produce just the hues, tints, tones and shades they want, and The Spinner's Color Toolbox, in which she uses dyed fibers to make a stunning variety of textured yarns. In addition to being an amazing spinning teacher, Judith is also a very gifted dyer and colorist. I got about a zillion ideas for spinning projects from these classes.

I've mentioned (and linked to) Jillian Moreno's two DVDs on color before, and not just because I love her. I think they are both great—clear, succinct, and loaded with samples and swatches: 12 Ways to Spin Handpainted Top and 12 (Plus!) Ways to Spin Batts.

Last but certainly not least, there's Color Works for Spinners by Deb Menz. Deb is the author of the ultimate book on spinning color, Color in Spinning, and I'm partial to anything she does, because I took my first dyeing class with her. She is a precise, patient dyer and a wonderful teacher. 

*A quick note: some of these are affiliate links, meaning if you click on them and end up purchasing a class, I get a small kickback. I love Craftsy; their classes are well-shot, well put-together, and cover a whole range of topics that crafters can't necessarily find locally. Interweave's video products have in my view been much more uneven, so rest assured that if I recommend something, I've seen it and liked it. 

If you'd like information like this, along with sneak peeks at upcoming yarns and fibers, delivered right to your inbox each week, sign up here to get my newsletter! You can also opt-in to get my e-course on choosing and using breed-specific wools as a special thank you!